Sandigan clears 2 ex-agri execs of plunder in fertilizer fund scam
Both fled the country to avoid testifying before a Senate committee investigating the use of P723 million in fertilizer funds to bankroll then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004.
They were later charged with plunder for the misuse of the funds that went to more than 100 members of the House of Representatives three months before the elections.
But two weeks ago, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case against former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante and former Agriculture Secretary Luis Ramon Lorenzo Jr. on the grounds that state prosecutors had failed to provide evidence that the two men amassed ill-gotten wealth from the scheme.
Sought for comment, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said she did not rule out the possibility of an appeal that may even be elevated to the Supreme Court.
“If there’s a ground to question it, why not? We can’t just give up if we feel that there’s a ground for it,” Morales told reporters on the sidelines of the signing of an agreement with the Civil Service Commission in Mandaluyong City.
In a 24-page resolution dated Nov. 28, the antigraft court’s Special Second Division ruled that the prosecution was not able to show probable cause to try Bolante, Lorenzo and six others for plunder, despite being given a chance to shore up the case.
Even as “the central key player in this case is none other than Bolante,” the court noted that “no material participation, other than the release of the funds, could be shown to be attributable to accused Bolante.”
The court already found a lack of probable cause in August 2014. But instead of throwing out the case, it directed prosecutors to submit evidence showing how Bolante and the other accused amassed the P723 million intended for fertilizers and farm inputs.
Prosecutors tried to bolster the case by dropping whistle-blower Jose Barredo Jr. as an accused and by presenting his testimony that he was the “runner” who delivered kickbacks to public officials.
The Sandiganbayan received the amended charge sheet only on July 21 this year.
The court still found Barredo’s 20-page judicial affidavit to be lacking, as it only detailed “the modus operandi of the fertilizer scam, the persons who were offered, or had received and how the ‘SOP,’ or commissions were distributed.”
SOP, or standard operating procedure, is the term for bribes or facilitation fees.
Barredo mentioned several recipients of the SOP, but the court said they were local officials who had fund allotments from the Department of Agriculture (DA). The officials were not even defendants in the plunder case, the court noted.
“Neither is there even any mention that such ‘SOPs’ or commissions, after having been received by the local officials or DA officials, were collected by, or channeled back to Bolante and/or the other accused in this case to complete the process of amassing, accumulating or acquiring ill-gotten wealth,” the resolution read.
It concluded that the “documents could not show, even prima facie, that the fund eventually ended up with Bolante.”
The court reiterated that while the prosecution’s documents established that the Farm Input and Farm Implement Program fund was distributed despite irregularities, it could not show that ill-gotten wealth was amassed.
“There is no document and/or testimony submitted to establish that accused Bolante received this unliquidated amount so as to make him probably guilty of the crime of plunder,” it said in granting the accused officials’ motions to dismiss the case.
Also cleared were Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ibarra Trinidad C. Poliquit and private defendants Jaime Paule, Marilyn Araos, Joselito Flordeliza, Marites Aytona, Jose Barredo and Leonicia Marco-Llarena.
The resolution was approved by Justices Samuel R. Martires, Michael Frederick L. Musngi and Geraldine Faith A. Econg. Martires is on the short list of candidates for the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Jose Perez.